Adam Warren's art is instantly recognizable — it's very obviously manga-influenced, but he's spent the past couple decades developing such a well-defined style that even the untrained eye can distinguish Warren's line work from that of the legions of uninspired manga imitators in the west.
His current work, Empowered, is a series of graphic novels that combines T&A with a hilarious inversion of superhero tropes in his signature style. I had a chance to talk to Warren about Empowered, the importance of the one-shot and the trick to finding good artists on DeviantArt.
Danny Djeljosevic for Comics Bulletin: Empowered, how's it doing?
Adam Warren: Pretty well, pretty well. This is the cover to Empowered Vol.7 [pictured below]. Very ninja-tastic, as you can tell from all of the ninjas on the background, foreground. Having to draw upwards of 208 pages at a time is kind of a time-consuming enterprise, to put it mildly.
CB: What would you say is the average turnaround time on an Empowered graphic novel?
Warren: When I started them they used to be a lot simpler and the drawings were a lot easier, so for a while I did a lot of them in about six months. I think Empowered Vol. 6 actually did take close to six months, start to finish, but I achieved that by being completely sedentary for six months. Like, coma patient sedentary. And I kind of put on a lot of weight; I didn't work out. I did nothing but get up and draw until I got too tired, go back to sleep, get up and draw and repeated that for six months. I was able to pull it off, but the health consequences were so severe, I was like, "Not gonna be able to keep that up!"
CB: I think people don't really think about the health consequences of a creative lifestyle, where you're so sedentary.
Warren: Oh, yeah. I mean, I had to lose 65 pounds since I finished Vol. 6 because diabetes runs in my dad's side of the family — all the way to Australopithecus, pretty much — so I'm trying to steer clear of that. That is the thing, going into the complete sedentary thing — it's not a quality move, but often you're kind of forced to do it as an artist when you have to meet those brutal deadlines. Which is kind of why I had hoped to transition into more writing, to have other people do the heavy lifting that actually love to draw and such. I'm hoping to get into more of that and do more one-shots for different artists on Empowered and to get other writing projects going. It is really time consuming. Plus, I like other people's work because I'm not doing it. Like, with Emily [Warren, no relation], who did the [Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman] one-shot. I mean, it's some beautiful stuff, and it's extra beautiful because I didn't have to do it. A big problem with the Original Graphic Novel format is that the gap between volumes is so horrifically long. I want to do something to keep the franchise alive in people's attention.
CB: People are always talking about the death of the single issue, but that's how it stays in people's minds.
Warren: That's the thing. I gotta say, the OGN format is not the wave of the future. It's very difficult; it's kind of the worst of both worlds. Actual manga — all of them are anthologized, obviously. The OGN format almost does not exist in Japan, but nonetheless we're kind of basing [our idea of it] on the translated manga that comes over here only in volumes. People aren't aware that it's actually serialized and paid for on a 20-page chunk basis. Having to sit down and do anywhere from 160 to, in my case, 208 pages at a time… that's pretty rough.
And that's also rough on the people getting into the field. You tell someone without a lot of experience that you're going to do a hundred pages — usually for not that much money — and it's like, "Ugh." That's why for a number of reasons I do kind of fear for the newcomers in the field. It is so much more brutal than when I got to do it. It's a problem.
CB: An OGN seems to be a passion project type. You have to have a lot of ambition to do it.
Warren: Oh yeah. I mean, at least webcomics offer the opportunity to do serialized stuff and not lose your stuff, not lose your shirt. If you self-publish in today's market, you're begging for disaster. I mean, you won't meet the minimum Diamond thresholds, the printing cost will be incredible… At least webcomics offer a way for people to get their work out and get some attention for it without losing a ton of money. The trick is making money off of it.
CB: It seems like the best way to keep that up would be actively selling stuff. That's why everyone has the online store where we can buy T-shirts.
Warren: That's the problem — just running the merch and the webcomics thing is kind of a job in and of itself. I mean, it really is a full-time job.
CB: It's almost like your job is selling the merchandise of your side-hobby.
Warren: Yeah, pretty much. I don't envy them that. It's so challenging. I mean, you can't devote that much time into doing artwork, and a lot of guys have full time jobs, too. They have a full-time job, draw the webcomic and handle the merch. That's a lot of work.
CB: Let's go back to Empowered. What are the origins of the comic?
Warren: During a slow period around in the mid-2000s, I was having to take on a lot of commissions to support myself, a fair amount of which were of a damsel in distress nature — in effect, bondage. I got kind of bored of them, so I switched over doing comic pages about a distress-prone heroine, and it grew like topsy from there and turned into a real comic eventually. Which I was not anticipating.
CB: It just sort of blossomed?
Warren: Oh, yeah. I had previously epic plans for a really ambitious comic, most of which never came anywhere. Then this thing literally started as a joke and eventually developed into a real kind of epic comic over the years. And now we're still going. We've done six volumes, working on the seventh, with future one-shots coming out hopefully also.
CB: I reviewed Maidman for Comics Bulletin. I loved it, it was so much fun. It was my first real exposure to the series. People kept telling me, "Empowered's awesome!" so when I read the one-shot, I was like, "Wow, this is great."
Warren: That was my hope, that people would be able to check out one-shots and not have to shell out 16 bucks to start a full volume. It'd be a less of a commitment to start on the Empowered experience, so I'm glad to hear that [it worked for you].
CB: It's definitely a good idea. I love buying one-shots, and if it gets me into something else, even better. Do you feel like Empowered plays with gender roles and subverts it all?
Warren: Oh, yeah.
CB: The Maidman thing spoke to
me so much. It's hilarious, but it's a very nice subversion of superheroes, gender roles and how superheroism is kind of a transvestite thing, anyway. I mean, you go out at night in a costume!
Warren: That's definitely why I wanted to have Emily work on it, since she's done plenty of stuff in that direction and would be a natural for it, and I thought it worked out really well.
CB: How did you find Emily?
Warren: I found her on DeviantArt. Yeah, I found at least four or five artists that I've worked with on DeviantArt. They've actually been pretty handy for that.
CB: That's awesome. I sometimes try and find artists through DeviantArt. It's like wading through mud a lot of the time.
Warren: The thing that I do is… I've never been to the DeviantArt main page. I just go to an artist and see who they like, and I jump over to that. It's really just a matter of what the artists like and recommend. That's what I do. The main page is just a storm of random art, whereas if you filter it by an artist you like and see who they like, that works out pretty well. I do recommend it.
CB: Do you see an end in sight for Empowered or are you just going with the flow?
Warren: I do eventually have an endgame in mind, but I'm hoping it'll take me a while to get to it. There are so many secondary plotlines and such that are sneaking up all the time. Stuff that I didn't anticipate that I really want to develop, so hopefully we'll go for some time.
Empowered Volume 7 will be released on May 3.